Ford Martini lured by Kenyan victory memories Kenya's Safari Rally has a place in the hearts of all true rallying aficionados. It is one of motorsport's great adventures and holds a place in the memories of many in the sport. For the Ford ...
Ford Martini lured by Kenyan victory memories
Kenya's Safari Rally has a place in the hearts of all true rallying aficionados. It is one of motorsport's great adventures and holds a place in the memories of many in the sport. For the Ford Martini World Rally Team the memories are especially poignant - it is just 12 months since Colin McRae and Nicky Grist guided their Focus World Rally Car to its first victory on only its third rally.
McRae and Grist will return to the Safari (25 - 27 February) with team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya, also former winners of the African classic, boosted by a podium finish each during the opening two rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship. However, current form cannot ever hope to provide an accurate guide to this third round of the 14-event series.
The Safari is like no other world championship rally, it has all the superlatives. The longest, the toughest, the roughest, the hottest, the highest, the most demanding on drivers and cars - choose any one of these and you have the essence of the Safari.
Just 12 days separate the end of the Swedish International Rally and the start of the Safari but far more than a different continent separates the two rallies, as McRae, also a winner in Kenya in 1997 appreciates more than most.
"It's all about endurance, an adventure over pretty wild terrain," said the 31-year-old Scot. "The competitive sections are long, held over open roads with animals roaming across the plains. Every rally has a slightly different character but this is very much one on its own. To be successful you must find a balance between speed and survival.
"I enjoy the rally very much and it's Nicky's favourite in the championship," McRae said of co-driver Grist. "I would love to go to Kenya and win again. The team is in high spirits after our result in Sweden, the Focus proved last year how strong it is and I see no reason why we can't repeat last year's win," he added.
Sainz is a Safari veteran, and recognises the importance of caution as much as speed. "Although the Safari has moved much closer to a European-style event in recent years, it's still very different. The roads are so rough and rocky in places that it's impossible to drive at 100 per cent all the time as we do on other rallies. As a rally driver used to driving as fast as I can all the time, it's sometimes difficult to judge the correct speed. It's always in the back of your mind that someone else is pushing a little bit harder but it's tricky to know the limit of car and tyres in those conditions.
"Several years ago teams were allowed to put mechanics in helicopters so they could land and make repairs if a car hit problems but that's not allowed any more. Now if you push too hard and hit troubles on the rough roads, it can mean instant retirement," added the 37-year-old Spaniard.
A third Ford Focus is entered for young Norwegian Petter Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills. Solberg emerged as one of the stars of last year's event, finishing fifth on his debut in Africa after being called into the Ford Martini team at the last moment due an injury to Thomas Rådström.
"Last year's rally was a dream for me," said Solberg. "It was such a learning experience and I think I gained more knowledge of the sport in those three days than I had up to then in my entire career. I'm looking forward to going back there, especially as it will be my first rally of the season. My aim is to finish but, who knows, if things go well it's possible I could score points again."
The Safari requires the Ford Martini team to prepare the Focus cars in a very different style to that of other rallies. They sit about 60mm higher above the road to provide better clearance over boulder-strewn sections. And a 'snorkel' pipe leads from the bonnet up the side of the windscreen to roof level, allowing the engine to breathe in the event of torrential downpours quickly turning dustbowls into raging torrents and forcing cars to 'wade' across rivers that were previously dry beds.
The car has been strengthened in all areas to protect it from the punishment inflicted by rocks and washaways and that has a marked effect on performance and the length of the sections requires a second fuel tank, extending capacity to 120 litres. "The car is much heavier and so it's not as responsive as usual," said McRae. "Because of the high altitude the engine does not perform as well either so drivers have to work much harder to obtain top performance."
As with every other aspect of this rally, the main quality the Ford Martini team will look for in Michelin's tyres is reliability. Tyre patterns themselves are identical to those used on classic gravel rallies but their construction is reinforced to combat damage to the crown and sidewalls. The team will use Michelin's highly successful ATS puncture resistant mousse in their tyres for the short sections but on the faster, longer sections McRae and Sainz will choose not to use it, placing an even greater emphasis on the drivers' tyre sympathy.
The vast Kenyan plains - only a rally car, a long plume of dust trailing behind it, and a small gathering of Masai tribespeople infiltrating the wilderness - present a picture postcard view of this world championship round. Covering more than 2700km, with 1060km of competitive driving, it is almost three times longer than most rallies. Indeed the mammoth second leg which takes drivers north of the rally base at Nairobi to straddle the Equator, covers almost 1200km, the length of a typical rally, and drivers spend almost 16 hours behind the wheel. The first and last legs cover an identical route south of the Kenyan capital. For the first time the rally is based outside central Nairobi and, apart from liaison sections, the event will not enter downtown Nairobi itself.
SAFARI RALLY ROUND 3 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP 25 - 27 FEBRUARY 2000
Friday 25 February: Leg 1 Nairobi - Nairobi
Start Nairobi 09.00 CS1 Orien - Isinya 112.43km 11.28 CS2 Oltepesi - Olepolos 116.92km 13.34 CS3 Olorian - Maili Tisa 71.40km 15.58 CS4 Kajiado - Olooloitikosh 50.09km 16.43 Finish Nairobi 19.45 Total 350.84km
Saturday 26 February: Leg 2 Nairobi - Nairobi
Start Nairobi 04.45 CS5 Marigat - Gari Ya Moshi 123.21km 07.45 CS6 Nyaru - Kimngorom 68.64km 10.15 CS7 Morendat - Mbaruk 93.81km 13.38 CS8 Marigat - Mogotio 73.66km 16.12 Finish Nairobi 20.00 Total 359.32km
Sunday 27 February: Leg 3 Nairobi - Nairobi
Start Nairobi 05.00 CS9 Orien - Isinya 112.43km 07.08 CS10 Oltepesi - Olepolos 116.92km 09.14 CS11 Olorian - Maili Tisa 71.40km 11.43 CS12 Kajiado - Olooloitikosh 50.09km 12.28 Finish Nairobi 16.00 Total 350.84km
Rally total 1061.00km